Sweeping and drinking

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WHEN I LIVED in Houston, I did not sweep the street in front of my house, and neither did the city or anybody else. Yet it stayed clean, a phenom I cannot explain.

But here in my funky Mexican neighborhood — perhaps due to living on the area’s main drag — somebody’s gotta do it, and that somebody is me. I did it this morning.

It is a multi-step process. First, you rake. This collects the stuff that is not biodegradable, like plastic plates and beer bottles. I am not making this up. I live among slobs.

I toss this material into a trash can. Second, you sweep the sidewalk and street near the curb. This collects pure dirt and the occasional plant material. I put this into a bucket and walk past the sex motel next door, cross the street to a wooded area and let it fly. Dirt upon dirt.

What I never do is sprinkle. Those who live here know what I mean. The humorous but widespread practice of sprinkling water on the sidewalk or street. This is to keep the dust down, and it does that for the 10 minutes it takes until the water dries and you’re back to where you started.

Sprinkling accomplishes nothing useful, but everybody does it. Sometimes the sprinkle is allowed to just sit, but sometimes it is followed by a sweep. Of course, sweeping a dry surface is easier than sweeping a damp surface, but no matter. Everybody sprinkles.

You encounter odd doings in Mexico, but it’s not just the Mexicans who are odd. We have odd Gringos too.

DON’T DRINK THE WATER

A Yahoo forum set up by Gringos and that focuses on our area recently had some back-and-forth over full-house, water-purification systems, which are pricey.* Some folks take the old saw about “don’t drink the water” to extremes. This is understandable for newbies, but there are people who’ve lived here years who are still antsy about the water, needlessly.

My second ex-wife and I vacationed in Guanajuato in the early 1980s, and I recall that I showered in the hotel with my mouth clamped shut, and I brushed my teeth with bottled water. No way was I going to let my mouth come near Mexican water, which I knew was pestilential or worse.

I am to be forgiven because I was ignorant.

aguaHere at the Hacienda, our tap water for years was spring water that was delivered in a tanker truck and pumped into our underground cistern. It looked very clear, but we did not drink it or cook with it. We used bottled water for that.

And then about three years ago, the neighborhood’s municipal system was upgraded, and we hooked into it. The water is nice, clear and lovely, but we still do not drink it. Perhaps we could, but I’ll let somebody else test it first.

This is how most Mexicans live. Tap water for most everything except drinking. Bottled water for drinking, and the bottled water is available everywhere, including home delivery from trucks that work the streets daily. I get mine from the Pepsi-Cola Company.

If tap water gets into your mouth while showering or brushing your teeth, just swish it about and spit it out. You will not die. I promise.

* * * *

* Gringos move to Mexico and often cancel the considerable financial savings by insisting on bringing their American lifestyles with them. My advice: adapt. It’s cheaper and morally satisfying.

25 thoughts on “Sweeping and drinking”

  1. Felipe,

    I remember both of these topics VERY well.

    The sprinkling always amazed me too. Within 15 minutes the water is dry, and you are back to where you started minus the water you just wasted. The only thing we ever swept was our driveway. I never bothered with the street.

    The water from the tap never really bothered me either. Once my wife told me just never to swallow it. It was a non-issue. I would brush my teeth with it. Shower and gargle. Occasionally, I accidentally let a stray drop or two get swallowed and nothing ever happened to me, not even a stomach ache. We even cooked pasta with it and nothing ever happened to us. But for drinking it was ONLY out of the bottle.

    Give a hug to that LOVELY wife of yours, Felipe!

    Mike

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    1. Mike: The sprinkle is a cultural thing. They do it because it’s what you do. As for the tap water, your spouse gave you good advice. I too have accidentally swallowed it. Nothing happens. I use tap water to boil pasta too, but I put a couple of drops of disinfectant into the water first.

      As for hugging my lovely wife, I do it daily.

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        1. Don Cuevas: I have no clue what that means. However, were I to wear suspenders, I would not wear a belt because there would be no need. I rather like the suspender look, but every time I’ve worn them they slipped off my shoulders when I sat down. How does one avoid that? It’s a mystery.

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          1. It meant that it’s unnecessary to put disinfectant in water that will be boiled.

            But there may be other toxic substances in water, other than microbes. How do herbicides and pesticides and heavy metals sound as a cocktail?

            I have no evidence that those substances are in our water, but given the agricultural use of the land, it could be possible.

            Saludos,
            Don Cuevas

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            1. Ahhhh, you were too subtle for me. I am a simple man. This reminds me of something. One day, my mother, my second wife and I were walking down the street in New Orleans. I forget the topic of conversation, but I remember that my mother said to my second wife, referring to me, “He don’t understand subtle.”

              And she was right.

              As for putting disinfectant in water that I will boil, it’s just two little drops of Microdyn. I can afford it. Better safe than sorry.

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  2. Water at our hacienda is supposed to be safe to drink. We brush our teeth with it, but I do not cook with it, make coffee with it or drink it straight from the tap. It turns our clothes yellow in the wash. We have water delivered for drinking. When we visited Cuyutlan there was a sign in the hotel that translated as, Don’t Drink the Water, It will destroy your intestines.

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    1. Bonnie: I think your approach to water is a wise one. The only cooking I do with tap water is to boil pasta, and I disinfect the water with two drops of Microdyn before doing so. Turns your clothes yellow? My, my. Not ours. Our tap water looks very nice, and it does nothing to clothes but leave them clean.

      I won’t ever drink tap water here no matter how much it’s claimed to be safe, and you see that on occasion. I don’t believe it. But getting it into your mouth for tooth-brushing, etc., does nothing bad. I equate it to what happens if you swim in a lake or river and get some water in your mouth. You spit it out, but you don’t swallow it, and you don’t die either. It’s just common sense.

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  3. My house has city water running to it, but it has never been hooked up. I use well water. That is, I use well water for utility purposes. For drinking and cooking, I use bottled water. And there is the contradiction. I do not use the well water for cooking, but I use it to wash and rinse my dishes. Logic often fails us all.

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    1. Señor Cotton: You bring up a point that slipped my mind on writing the post. Dish-washing. Like everything else, save swallowing it, I use my tap water, and so can you. I’m guessing the Gringos who want full-house purification systems also grow faint and daffy at the notion of washing their dishes with tap water. Silly.

      You’ve mentioned the well before. Is it a personal well for your house? Normally, you don’t see wells near a coast because the water table is so high.

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        1. When I mentioned the high water table as being a problem, I meant the quality of water you usually find just underground near the ocean. Generally, a high water table is a good thing for wells, but not when the water is brackish.

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      1. Gringos aren’t even a roundoff in the number of purchases of whole-house purification systems. 25 years ago, the city water where I live resembled bean soup during the rainy season. Sludge would fill up the toilet tanks, and you wouldn’t want to wash your clothing in what came straight from the street. You sure wouldn’t want to bathe in it. That’s why my house had a whole-house purifier. In time, the city water became cleaner, the purification system went kaput, and it wasn’t replaced. We use bottled water now for drinking.

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        1. Ms. Shoes: Lots has happened in the past 25 years in Mexico. As I noted in an earlier response, the municipal water in my neighborhood was brown when we moved here. Now it’s crystal clear. All one needs these days is bottled water for drinking and, I think, all cooking too. Otherwise, you can do with tap water what they do with tap water above the border.

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  4. I would agree that the sprinkle is a cultural thing — probably goes back to Spain. Hemingway describes it at Pamplona in “The Sun Also Rises.”

    As for me, “I’ve never been to Spain, but I kinda like the music.”

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  5. If I had to guess as to why the streets in Houston stay clean, I’d vote for the frequent and torrential rains. I’ve never seen it rain so hard anywhere else.

    As for Mexican water, I’m with you. Everywhere I’ve ever gone in Mexico, I’ve brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth with tap water, and never had a single problem. But I’m not about to start drinking quarts of the stuff either. Your body can easily fight off a few bacteria, but billions of them are another matter.

    I think I’m with Don Cuevas on the microdyne in pasta water. I suspect that microdyne isn’t at all good for you, probably isn’t destroyed by boiling, and is unnecessary in any case.

    Though I’m no expert in this matter, my guess is that pesticides in water could be degraded by boiling, but heavy metals are gonna come through just fine. Still, the little that you get in the occasional pasta, particularly at your age (ill health effects take many years to manifest), isn’t likely to hurt you.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, Ma
    Where we are constantly picking up trash in front of the house. Urban living, I guess.

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    1. Okay, bub, what’s up with this “at your age” business?

      Moving on. As for frequent and torrential rains, you clearly have not been in my neighborhood often. It rains every day, often in torrents, for five months straight. And it does not wash the plastic plates and beer bottles away, alas.

      Microdyn, like most veggie disinfectants, contains tiny bits of silver. I don’t worry about it. Actually, I don’t worry about much of anything, but I did when I first moved down here. I was a product of my society, but it’s gradually worn off. Americans are fed a constant diet of worry, worry, worry. Shopping cart handles are my favorite. Full of germs! Everything is a health hazard! Get your annual checkups! Etc., etc. etc.

      Most of the Gringos who resettle down here never get over it, which is why they install whole-house purification systems.

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      1. I’m with you on the ridiculousness of shopping cart handle wipes.

        As for the rain in your neighborhood cleaning the streets, they are, as I recall, “empedrado,” no? That seems to provide for much more “grip” for trash to stick to. Still, I’m sure few people in your old neighborhood in Houston actually walked anywhere, at least if my experience of Houston is anything to go by. So little opportunity to drop trash. And they were probably tidier people to begin with. Saludos!

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        1. Kim: The street out front is smooth asphalt. The street out back is stone and cement. The street out front is heavily traveled, but out back almost nobody. It dead-ends a block farther on. As for my Houston street, yep, the neighbors did walk, but they did not throw trash. Generally, Mexicans are very tidy about their own house and the street in front of their houses. They are considerably less so when other folks’ property is involved. Which, by the way, is why renting to them is a dicey proposition and usually not advisable. I am, of course, now referring to your recent blog post.

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  6. Water quality varies from place to place and colonia to colonia. In one place the water can be pristine, and in the next place you’ll find industrial and agricultural waste with deadly chemicals. I use tap water while showering and bottled water for brushing my teeth.

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    1. Andrés: Before our neighborhood’s water-system upgrade a few years back, the water was brown, which is why we never connected with the municipal system. We had spring water brought to us by tanker truck. But after the upgrade, all is great.

      I’ve lived in Mexico now over 15 years. I’ve never seen tap water be anything but clear anywhere. Other people’s houses, hotels, you name it. And I’ve always treated it the same way. I use tap water exactly as I did above the Rio Bravo except for drinking and cooking. Then I used bottled. Never had a lick of problem. Mexico has improved markedly over the years, and continues to do so.

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